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Crusaders face Blues in Super 15 showdown

WELLINGTON (AFP) –

Dan Carter of the Crusaders is being tackled by Liam Messam of the Chiefs, in Hamilton, on July 27, 2012

This file photo shows Dan Carter of the Canterbury Crusaders being tackled by Liam Messam of the Chiefs during their Super 15 rugby union match at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton, on July 27, 2012. Seven-time champions Crusaders open their 2013 Super 15 campaign on Friday against bitter rivals Auckland Blues.

Seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders open their 2013 Super 15 campaign on Friday against bitter rivals Auckland Blues while South Africa stages a potentially torrid heavyweight clash.

Blues coach John Kirwan, whose squad includes a large number of newcomers to Super rugby, surprised the Wellington Hurricanes last week, is under no illusions about the size of the task facing his side against the Crusaders.

“As games go, this is just under a Test match. Blues versus Crusaders is the game of the season so you’ve got to be ready for it because it should be,” Kirwan said, comparing the match to a Milan football derby.

Kirwan, tasked with rebuilding the Blues, has kept the same line-up that performed impressively against the Hurricanes, which means only four All Blacks will take the field.

In contrast, the Crusaders have 10 All Blacks, including seven forwards, inside backs Andy Ellis and Dan Carter directing play and All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg, who will start on the wing, indicating a desire to play wide.

Blues' Gareth Anscombe is tackled by Lions' Elton Jantjies (L) and Lionel Mapoe (R), in Auckland, on May 11, 2012

Blues’ Gareth Anscombe is tackled by Elton Jantjies (L) and Lionel Mapoe (R) of the Lions during their Super 15 rugby match at Eden Park in Auckland, on May 11, 2012. Seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders open their 2013 Super 15 campaign on Friday against bitter rivals Auckland Blues.

The Coastal Sharks and Western Stormers will both be looking for vastly improved performances when they clash at King’s Park in Durban on Saturday for the first time since the Sharks snatched victory in last year’s nail-biting semi-final.

The Sharks were pushed hard by the Cheetahs last week and have had plenty to work on, particularly protecting the ball at the breakdown.

“The Stormers hit you hard, so you need to make sure you maintain possession when they do. We’ve worked on that in training. It’s a big focus,” coach John Plumtree said.

The Stormers fell to defeat in their season-opener last week, with Morne Steyn kicking six penalties to steer the Northern Bulls to a 25-17 victory.

Waratahs' Robert Horne (C) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a try against Bulls, in Sydney, on May 11, 2012

Outside centre Robert Horne (C) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a try for the New South Wales Waratahs during their Super 15 rugby match against South Africa’s Northern Bulls, in Sydney, on May 11, 2012. Waratahs play Melbourne Rebels to open their 2013 campaign, on Friday.

“Basic errors cost us and it meant we conceded a lot of set-piece penalties and weren’t able to get out of our half,” said coach Allister Coetzee.

“Yes, it was our first game of the season, and we were playing at altitude, but those mistakes in our game cost us.”

The defending champions Waikato Chiefs host the Central Cheetahs at the start of their four-match Australasian road trip.

Injuries have forced the Chiefs to use the same makeshift backline that outplayed the Otago Highlanders for Saturday’s game against the Cheetahs, who produced a spirited but unsuccessful fightback against the Sharks.

Despite the high number of injuries in his squad, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie remains confident in their ability to perform.

“We’re not too concerned about what other people think. We were pretty confident we could win the (Highlanders) game even with the guys we had missing.”

The Cheetahs have the long flight from South Africa against them and while they have been bolstered by the return of talisman Heinrich Brussow, an injury to Waltie Vermeulen means they are travelling with only three locks.

The NSW Waratahs are at home to the Melbourne Rebels, the Queensland Reds play the Hurricanes in Brisbane and the Bulls are at home in Pretoria to the Western Force.

Early competition leaders ACT Brumbies have a bye along with the Highlanders and Southern Kings.

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